Thursday, March 21, 2013

A Pinstripe Parable

Hugh Holland, managing director of Kilgour French Stanbury on London's Savile Row (which once made pinstripe suits for Cary Grant) said in 2001 that pinstripes are bound up in the history of uniforms. "At the time when striped trousers were worn with a morning coat in the City," he says, "banks identified themselves with different stripes." But Susan North, deputy curator of textiles and dress in London's Victoria and Albert Museum, disagreed. "When the striped suit arrived on the scene," North says, "it wasn't staid or respectable at all -- it was flashy!" North says the modern pinstripe was born in the 1920s, inspired by boating suits of the 1890s which had a thin, dark stripe on a white or cream background. "It was in sporting gear like the boating suit that there'd always been the most opportunity for self-expression in men at a time when their formalwear was very dark and somber".

Whether you believe pinstripes are born of staid militariness or of the dandy flamboyance of the roaring twenties, the pinstripe, in all its constructions, has remained a venerable style in men and women’s fashions for almost a century now. My vintage tapered jeans by Lee, rendered in charcoal with a subtle cream stripe (I also have a pair in navy with a cream stripe), hail from the 1970s and remain among my most favorite trousers. I can dress them up or down, make them flirty or formal (well, as formal as denim can be), and have never failed to find something ideal in my closet to go with them.

Although Tuesday was quite balmy and today was the first full day of spring, winter weather has returned with a vengeance to the eastern seaboard.  A blast of arctic air came howling down from the north this morning, bringing with it snow flurries and wind-chill temperatures that never exceeded the 20s all day.  Sturdy denim was my go-to wardrobe choice for such conditions, layered over long-johns and thick socks. Wanting to mix my patterns a bit but too shy to go all into an all-out mash-up, I paired the subtle stripe in the pants with a black and white paisley blouse by Liz Claiborne, a hand-me-down from my best friend’s mother, Joyce, in Spokane, Washington. To inject a bit of color (and more warmth) into my outfit, I covered the paisley with a rich red, thickly knit Gap sweater with a rolled neckline, topped the whole thing off with a black fedora adorned with a red feather, and pulled on some short black booties by Pink & Pepper.

I finished my look with a carved cinnabar pendant on a black cord accented with silver beads, a gift from my dear friend, Judy, when she came to visit me from Dallas in 2005, and silver beaded "earwraps" I found in a craft booth at the Maryland Home & Garden Show a few weeks ago ( Pulling on elbow-length knit gloves, I headed out into my day, scoffing at the cold.

Happily, I received compliments aplenty on my attire. "Lookin’ good!" came the cheery greeting from a security guard at the Library of Congress where I do research on behalf of my employer. But the gentleman handing out cheese samples at the supermarket on my way home from work had me smiling from ear to ear with his praise. "You are always so impeccably dressed" he said as I tasted a salty cheddar from Switzerland.

I’m quite certain it was the pinstripes.

"Why do the Yankees always win? The other team can’t stop looking at the pinstripes."
-- Frank Abagnale

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